Saracens 20-24 Northampton Saints
Lady Luck smiles on Saints
May 31, 2014
Dylan Hartley and team-mates celebrate the win © Getty Images
Rugby is a thrilling but cruel sport. As has been fitting for the 2013-14 season, it came down to the TMO to decide who won the Aviva Premiership. After 100 minutes that oscillated from turgid rugby to exhilaration, the Premiership title hinged on whether Alex Waller had managed to get the ball on the line or not. Referee J.P. Doyle admitted he did not have a clear view of whether it could be given but TMO Graham Hughes decided he had enough evidence to give the try and away danced Northampton leaving the Saracens players crestfallen on their own goal line.
Had the Saints merely slotted a drop-goal, something that was more than plausible when two metres out, there would never have been the drama in the 100th minute of the match but sometimes the magnitude of the event can outweigh common sense. Tom Wood admitted he knew they needed to draw the game to win the title, but he was in the minority.
It was a scatty, hectic end to a match full of subplots. The first-half was largely bereft of class with it turning into an error-strewn 40 minutes of nervous rugby - at one point J.P. Doyle was heard saying "come on, let's play rugby" to the players. Only Ken Pisi's run through most of the Saracens' team lit up the packed Twickenham during the first 40.
The second-half opened up a touch more but despite having more territory, Saracens found it hard to break down a resolute Saints defence - a similar tale to the first-half when three times they had lineouts in attacking positions but Saints turned them over twice and cleared once. It was a game decided on the gainline, a battle the Saints won.
Saints' defence apart, the post-mortem from the first 80 will focus on the tale of two forward passes. The officials should have picked up Luther Burrell's effort which went at least four metres forward in the build-up to George Pisi's try, but that was missed, while the TMO and Doyle combined to rule out Owen Farrell's try for Alex Goode's pass, one which was more marginal than Burrell's. This area of the game needs more clarification ahead of next season - far too often over the last eight months has talk of TMOs dominated post-match debriefs.
A clearly frustrated Saracens boss Mark McCall was reluctant to lay any criticism but did admit the "big decisions went against" his team. For Saints boss Jim Mallinder he too dodged going one way or another on the game's major calls. "I think in a close game like that you can always look at a couple of decisions, ifs and buts, but I think we can look at a couple where we didn't get the bounce of the ball."
For those not travelling abroad for internationals, they will have a chance to pick away at just how a title escaped them or was won. Saracens ran out of steam at the end of the season. For the majority of the campaign, they were the driving force. They dominated the league and finished the strongest of all teams in the Heineken Cup. Finals are a lottery and they will now have to recharge and go again.
For the Saints, they can look back on a season where they found that extra momentum at the key time. The Amlin Challenge Cup victory gave them added impetus and they have now completed a rare double as they buried the heartache of last year's final loss to Leicester.
"We are getting used to playing big games," Mallinder said. "To get the double is an unbelievable feeling."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
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